Pen pals as children, friends meet for first time in Encinitas after 66 years
ENCINITAS — It’s amazing what — or who — you can find online these days.
Over the years, during visits to his daughter Anne’s Encinitas home, Egil Nilsen would wonder about a childhood friend he’d made some more than 60 years ago.
Egil, who grew up and continues to live on a southern Norwegian island, about an hour’s drive from the country’s capital of Oslo with his wife Wenche, decided last December, while visiting that he would seek to look up his friend.
He knew her only as Suellen Skinner. At that time Suellen was a 9-year-old elementary school student living in Downy, Calif.
Egil was 13 and in the sixth grade.
All that he was given from his then- teacher was a name and an address.
The letters were part of a school assignment for Egil and his class to improve their English.
Handwritten in cursive lettering, the first of several letters arrived to Suellen in 1949.
The very first letter served as an introduction, telling all about his family and where he lived.
“I learn some English each day. I hope I have learned more English next time,” Egil wrote in that first letter.
Several years and letters would follow, and during the holidays, they would exchange gifts. The last of the letters between the two came in 1956.
Last Friday, Suellen and Egil met for the first time in Encinitas.
And when Egil went to pick her up from the airport, (she flew in from Chico, Calif. for the day) the two recognized each other right away.
“It’s fun,” Suellen said. “I recognized him right away, and he recognized me.”
Suellen kept many of the letters in a scrapbook, even some of the gifts she received. She brought with her a pair of mittens and an embroidered doily that read “Greetings from Norway” in Norwegian that Egil had sent her.
“It was kind of fun to have a pen pal from Norway,” she said.
In trying to find Suellen, Egil was able to locate a census from 1940. He then asked a genealogy website company for help to find her.
“I’m pretty easy to Google,” she said. “There aren’t too many Suellens in the world.”
With some information in hand, Egil sent her an email.
It took about a week before he received any reply. Suellen had been in Texas, visiting family. When she got back, she began going through all of her emails and there she saw it.
She knew who he was right away, she said.
“I was glad,” Egil said when he received the reply. “We had never seen each other before.”
The two pen pals, whose friendship began 66 years ago said they hoped to continue to correspond with each other, especially now because they still share many things in common.
But this time, instead of receiving handwritten letters in the mail, their correspondence would be through email.